Martin Hannan: Politics driving train services

Sunday – was a dark day for Edinburgh and the whole of the UK. The successful East Coast operating company lost control of the main line franchise that links Edinburgh to the south, and I believe that the decision of the

A new Virgin East Coast train about to depart from King's Cross. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire
A new Virgin East Coast train about to depart from King's Cross. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire
A new Virgin East Coast train about to depart from King's Cross. Picture: David Parry/PA Wire

coalition government in Westminster to return the franchise to private hands is an act of folly that utterly reeks of their ideological hatred of the public sector.

The fact is that, as a renationalised operation after the failure of the two previous private franchisees, East Coast served this city well for more than five years. The arms-length directly operated railway company, or Train Operation Company to use its proper name, took over from National Express East Coast in November, 2009, and did a job really well that the private sector couldn’t do.

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Not only that but East Coast actually earned more for the public purse than any other operating company in the time it existed – more than £1 billion in total, with £217 million in 2013-14 alone.

The point is that all of that money went back to East Coast in terms of investment and improvement, and the 37 awards won by the Train Operation Company showed what a nationalised service with proper resourcing could do. You didn’t see government ministers prancing about with trophies and award certificates as they normally do whenever a government department wins a bauble – you couldn’t have the citizenry being told that public sector was better than private, could you?

Nor were the employees of East Coast spectacularly rewarded for their success. Unlike bankers and their bonuses, East Coast’s executives were paid no bonuses and no share options, and the highest-paid staff member was the chief executive on £236,000 a year compared to the £1.56 million average for similar sized companies in private industry.

I personally saw the commitment and enthusiasm of East Coast staff on several occasions, and when I spoke to them, they were keen to say they were taking pride in their jobs precisely because they knew they were working for a nationalised service and were under public scrutiny.

Yet the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats became hellbent on getting East Coast into private hands again. Nor should Labour crow about their support of a nationalised railway – it was always stated by Gordon Brown’s crew that they would put East Coast out for re-franchising once things had improved, and it was left to the trade unions to organised proper opposition to the re-privatisation of a successful asset owned by the taxpayer. That the RMT trade union and fellow unions together with the TUC and STUC and other campaigners failed to win the day is a devastating indictment of this coalition government. This coming general election isn’t about public versus private, because that argument was lost long ago, but it should be about fairness and destroying the East Coast Train Operating Company just wasn’t fair – remember, they weren’t even allowed to tender for the franchise.

For what it’s worth, this SNP member believes the Scottish Government should have been allowed to encourage a public sector bid for the East Coast and the Scotrail franchises, but UK rules forbade it. Should either franchise fail, the Scottish Government must ensure that nationalisation happens again.

Meanwhile, vote in May against this unfair inept coalition

Bordering on the indefensible

I HAVE protested before about the car park charges at the Royal Infirmary, and last week while visiting the Borders General Hospital I got a reminder of how unfair the ERI charges are.

You can park for free even in the short stay car park for up to four hours at the BGH, compared to an unavoidable charge of £4.30 for the same time at the Royal. You can park as long as you like if you are a patient staying in the BGH, compared to £7 per day at the ERI.

It’s simply unfair and a nasty postcode lottery.


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Cruel people, football fans. No sooner had Hearts scored their double handful against Cowdenbeath on Saturday than the old joke was running round Tynecastle – “What’s the time? Ten past (Cowden goalie) Thomson!”

Investment not posturing is key to North Sea oil

Yesterday we had Gordon Brown calling for the UK government to partly nationalise North Sea oilfields by taking a stake in the exploitation of ageing fields. That’s the same Gordon Brown who, with his No-supporting chums, was so determined to say that the falling price of oil would have bankrupted an independent Scotland.

Economic genius that he is, Brown’s case is that it is now OK for the UK to invest in an apparently failing industry, though as any serious oil expert such as Sir Ian Wood will tell you, the North Sea still has decades to produce oil if proper investment and tax breaks take place – something the UK government must sign up to in the forthcoming Budget.

Enthusiasm is flagging badly

SO the UK government wants to emblazon all new publicly-funded projects with a Union Jack and the legend “Funded by UK Government”.

As an SNP member I just have a couple of queries.

First of all, shouldn’t that be “funded by UK taxpayers”?

And will they put their message in huge letters on the side of any new Trident submarines?